There is nothing wrong changing parties - Ortom
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Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom in this interview with journalists in Makurdi said he will require over N40 billion to clear salary arrears of civil servants, while promising that he will use 70 percent of the last trench of the Paris Club Fund to pay December salaries. He also made a case why President Muhammadu Buhari should be re-elected among other issues. Scholastica Joseph was there for The Abuja Inquirer. Excerpts:
There are rumours that President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered state owing salaries to use the last trench of the Paris Club refund to clear arrears of salaries. Would you be able to use it to clear salaries between now and December?
That is why everything you hear needs clarification. What you have just said is not true. Mr. President is being misquoted. He didn’t say we should clear all arrears of salaries. Mr. President said the last tranche of the 50 percent of the Paris Club approved by him should be released to the states so that workers would also enjoy the Christmas.
We already have a template in what we agreed with Mr. President that when this money comes, at least a minimum of 50% of the amount should be used to clear arrear of salaries or be used to pay salaries. That was the agreement we had. But in Benue state here, each time we got it we use more than that. The last time we got it, we used 80 percent to pay arrears and even the one that comes now, we will use more than 70 percent to pay the arrears.
But to put records straight, the Paris Club refund we were claiming 100 percent which amounts to N181 billion and government had approved 50 percent. 25 percent of this amount was paid as first tranche amounting to N12.7 billion and then the second tranche out of this 50 percent was 12.5% which amounted to N6.8billion. So what is left out of the 50 percent now is 12.5 percent which amounts to N6.8 billion. But we already know that the amount of arrears we have in Benue state is over N40 billion. So it is impossible to talk about using about N6billion to clear arrears of salaries. And the other challenge I have in Benue is when labour leaders and I agreed that I should borrow money and pay two arrears of salary which I did. I'm still paying that money. It was an overdraft and definitely if this comes, I can assure you that a substantial amount of it will be used to pay salary arrears because I want my people to enjoy Christmas as the president directed.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has dumped the ruling APC to the opposition, PDP, do you see his exit weighing your party down?
For Atiku's resignation from the party, I can say it's a free world. We are in a democracy, and democracy entails freedom of movement, speech, association and expression. I want to inform you as a politician that in the game of politics, there are no permanent enemies, no permanent friends but permanent interests. So it is where your interest is that you go but I want to assure you that it will in no way affect the chances of the APC in Benue state and in Nigeria. Rather we are still committed to the objectives of the APC and the party is waxing strong. We have people defecting from other parties to the APC and in Benue here, you can see members of the state and National Assembly that are defecting into the APC and in several other places in the country.
So, the APC is waxing stronger and we are confident that come 2019, we will take the day again by the grace of God. There is no crime in leaving one party to the other depending what your interest is. After all, I was in PDP and I have to join the APC because that's where my interest is.
Despite the implementation of the anti-open grazing law, a number of cattle and other livestock are still seen moving about in town. People are expressing concern if the law has not taken off fully?
The anti-open grazing law has taken effect since November 1, 2017 and like I said before, this is a new law, a new innovation so we have decided to take the bull by the horns but we are going to implement it with a human face. The bill was signed into law on May 22, 2017 and we gave a grace period of six months for transition before implementation to allow the people acquaint themselves with the law. So I'm encouraging our people who have capacity and interest to go into livestock production. It is a lucrative business that can add value to the development of our state and the country. We are mindful of the implementation of the law by giving it a human face as long as herders do not trespass into peoples farms to destroy crops. But I assure you implementation is in full force.
As I talk to you, there are herdsmen who attacked some fishermen in Logo LG and four of them were apprehended; one with a gun. They are all in detention. Another group attacked a family, raped the wife and killed the husband. They were apprehended and currently in detention. So no reasonable person will say we are not doing it. We are implementing it but with a human face.
The president of Miyetti Allah in the state, Gairus Gololo, held a press conference in Lafia saying that you are playing politics with the anti-open grazing bill. What's your take on this?
Gololo is neither here or there. Nobody should take him serious. The police are looking for him. In fact, he has relocated to Lafia. First of all, he raised false alarm that 200 cows were slaughtered and when we investigated it, it was false alarm and there was no iota of truth in what he said. When we asked him to come and justify what he said, he ran away. Gololo raised alarm again that somewhere in Logo, a man jumped into the river and drowned with 200 cows. Where is their body, up till now nothing. And let me tell you that these cattle can swim more than human beings. In fact if you have a cow, take it to the river and hold its tail, it will take you across to the other side. The man is just a busy body. Why would I play politics with what will bring peace to herders and farmers in my state? Since the law came into effect, are we not living peacefully now? So, the police are looking for him and he will be apprehended.
Sir, you recovered N4.5 billion bond and you said you would plough it into projects. May we know how you have spent that money?
The N4.5 billion has been put into all those projects that it was meant for. The details are with the finance ministry. The roads; Taraku-Naka-Agagbe road, Zak-Biam/Afia road, Oju-Utonkon, Tarka-Igbor road, work is on-going on all of them and of course the water projects at Katsina Ala and Oju. So every single penny of that money was appropriated properly for use.
You are championing the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari. What informed your decision considering his age and fragile health?
Have you seen Mr President recently? I want to tell you that old soldier never dies. I want to tell you that the man is getting stronger. When he was sick, Benue state was the first state that initiated and started praying for his quick recovery. And we are grateful to God that he recovered and is back on his feet. I know that President Buhari is far younger than President Mugabe (laughs) and is still very strong. Beyond that, he is a man of integrity, discipline and courageous enough to fight corruption. He is a selfless leader.
I have not seen an alternative to Buhari. And despite all the challenges, taking over the leadership of a country when we are in a recession and for him to have taken us out of recession and the country is going forward. I'm committed to my belief that President Buhari remains the leader we need at this particular time.